As long as I could remember, I assumed that all gay men were metrosexual and “pretty”. When I was trying to come out of the closet I wanted to resist the trends I kept seeing by the “mainstream” gay men that I knew. However, I wasn’t quite sure who or where to find my place in the community.
When I learned what gay bears were initially, I was repulsed. The image of the bear community for me at the time involved lots of leather, fur, fat, and sloppy unprotected sex. Bear men were seen as animals that just like to fuck and eat. So being that I was living in such a conservative southern community, I had no other examples to follow other than the stereotypes that I had learned. That is until I made my first trip to Fort Lauderdale.
Ever since I started attracting guys I would groom myself in the worst way. I would trim and shave almost anything. I would wear cologne for almost any occasion. I would make sure my hair looked great. I would wear preppy, tight, flashy clothing. I believed this to be the most ideal, mainstream look. Everyone loves a Ken Doll.
I remember the first time I went to Bill’s Filling Station on my trip to Fort Lauderdale for SpringBreak 2010. I went in there with a buddy on a Friday night. Friday is the official bear night at Bill’s. When I walked in, it was wall to wall with big, furry, manly men. I saw denim, leather, flannel, and a few dudes running around shirtless. It was a nice change of scenery compared to what I had seen going out in downtown Columbia.
I walked around the bar to check out the layout of the place. I cruised to feel out the place, explore, and try something new. It was so hard to move through. A lot of guys were checking me out, but no one was introducing themselves. I finally reached the area that there were pool tables and ran into my now friend, Mark. Mark had spoke to me online, and apparently was a regular at Bill’s. We talked for a minute and I did another lap around the bar. When I returned to him I asked him why everyone seemed so rude. He told me, it wasn’t that they were rude, but most of them don’t have the balls to approach me. It was at this point I realized a lot of guys are intimidated by my size or my extroverted nature. Mark told me there were guys coming up to him asking about me while I was taking my last lap. Apparently I was so hot new piece of meat, and all these bears wanted a piece.
After that night at Bill’s I realized that being a bear is so much more than all the bullshit I had learned. There is this idea about body image and vanity in the gay community that poisons us. Its bad enough that we don’t get the same basic human rights, but we have to hate ourselves too. Here, at this moment, I saw other guys who were just like me. It was not the parade of queens and their labels that I saw in South Carolina. It was sexy, rugged, beefy guys that have a lot in common with me.
After the reception I received visiting Fort Lauderdale, I realized being a bear was in my nature. The reason I had felt so conflicted when I was younger, was because I was a bear trying to be metrosexual. Don’t get me wrong guys, I can be preppy at times, but I generally try to keep a natural look. I was a jock in highschool. I was a hippy in college. I was a country boy ever since I was 7. I was a rugged, furry animal that likes to be rough and party hardy.
The other issue of realizing I was a bear was the body image conflicts. So many guys are self conscious. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where physical activity was almost mandatory. I wrestled, I played football, basketball, track n field, and I waterskied and kneeboarded too. Acceptance is the main goal. If you don’t accept the way you look, then be determined to change it. If you don’t like the way someone else looks, keep it to yourself. I for one, am not one for extremes. Everyone asks me what my type is, and my simple answer is: I don’t do extremes. Not too fat, not too skinny, not too buff, not too hairy, not too smooth, not too many tats or piercings, not too old, not too young, race doesn’t matter, cut or uncut, aside from all that, the guy needs to be able to carry a conversation and laugh at a few of my shitty jokes.
I feel much more comfortable in my own skin by accepting that I am a bear. This body type and lifestyle are what’s best for me. I have found friends and a community that support each other and their endeavours. It is a sort of synthesis that can only be obtained from brotherhood and deep sense of pride. I hadn’t felt anything like it since I was on my football team back in high school. I enjoy being a bear and couldn’t think of living any other way.